HTO: Toronto's Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Essay collections aren't a new idea, but they're great.

The Long Version: I like essay collections, local history, my neighbourhood, architecture, and typography. So when Coach House Press, a small publisher that's about a quarter-kilometer from my home, had an open house as part of Doors Open Toronto, it wasn't something I was going to miss. But before I went, I checked out their website, and found their great write-up of HTO here. I bought my copy with only the briefest look inside to check on the choice of typeface - in this case a nice one called freight - which is something I do with just about any book that I buy. The novel experience, if you'll excuse the expression, is that this time I bought the book in the building where it was produced, and after seeing the equipment that it was made on. That must be the literary equivalent of a pick-your-own farm, except without all of the hard work.

The essays are well-written, and cover an even broader range of subjects than the unwieldy subtitle suggests. But even with diverse subjects, the focus never shifts away from Toronto and its immediate area. A discussion of the Lake Ontario water levels over the past 135,000 years examines the levels of sediment in the former Don Valley Brickworks quarry. Essays deal with the Garrison and Taddle creeks, which once ran across what's now downtown Toronto, as well as Castle Frank Brook which once ran through Nordheimer Ravine (photo above), and the history and local conditions that lead to them being buried in the city's sewer network. A section looks at the discovery of the Queen's Wharf during construction of condominiums far from the water's edge, which I remember from early 2006; the changing shoreline is just one example of the extensive and ongoing landfill that has shaped the city.

The essays also look at the history of civic water in Toronto from the grand era when it was knows as 'public works' and created monuments like the R.C. Harris filtration plant, above - a popular movie and TV filming location - and the St. Clair reservoir that lies a few metres beneath the surface of Sir Winston Churchill park seen in the opening photo. It also offers an excellent overview of the contemporary infrastructure involved in the city's stormwater management plan and efforts to recover wetlands and rejuvenate our remaining rivers.

Toronto isn't actually the centre of Canada - that would be just south of Yathkyed Lake in Nunavut - so I'm not going to suggest that this book will have anything more than academic interest to people who don't live in, or come from, Toronto. But this geographic specificity also makes it easy to recommend for people in Toronto who wouldn't otherwise be interested. Not many people pick up book talking about the formation of river valleys and how they're affected by changing lake water levels in an abstract way - those are called textbooks, and students need to be threatened with failure before they'll read them. But it's also what formed the ravines that characterize the city, and that makes it much more interesting.

Coach House Press is an important resource both for Canadian publishing and for the city. It's hard to imagine books like HTO happening without them. They're a friendly bunch and clearly passionate about what they do, and I know I'm going to be looking for more titles from them in the future.


Post a Comment

Thewsreviews only permits comments from its associate authors. If that's you, awesome and thanks. If not, you can find the main email address on this page, or talk to us on Twitter.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

contact me...

You can click here for Matthew's e-mail address.